“What’s up, girl?” [insert leering college boy here]

10 Oct

Let me take you to this moment that seems to have put me over the edge. I’m walking across the street on this gorgeous fall day, after being pretty productive at Starbucks, and I have this awesome song by Elton John stuck in my head:

My Father’s Gun by Elton John

And then, as I’m almost to the corner, someone from a car waiting to turn right leans out of their window and yells, “what’s up, girl?” before the car turns and speeds away. I am left feeling publicly humiliated as people walk by, knowing they heard what I heard, that they just saw my privacy violated. And I got so, intensely angry.

You want to know what’s up? I’ll tell you what’s up, motherfucker.

I have been a self-identified, conscious feminist for over two years now, and I’ve been steeping in gender and feminist theory since September 1st. Over the last seven weeks or so, I’ve been hollered, catcalled, and honked at more times than I was my entire life in Texas. You are really pissing me off with your entitlement to comment on my body. No, it isn’t a compliment. It doesn’t make me feel pretty, and if you actually were honest about your motivations I am damn sure they aren’t that pure. You take away my privacy, and you turn me into something that exists for your gaze. You make me feel like my body is not my own. Does that sound like a compliment to you? Besides, do you think my self esteem is so non-existent that it necessitates you vocalizing your attraction to make me feel good about myself? News flash, it doesn’t. It makes me feel violated, humiliated, and really fucking pissed. I would sincerely like it if you would go fuck yourself and then read some Audre Lorde, Judith Butler, or Gloria Anzaldua and then we can talk.

I don’t understand how men can still feel that they have this inherent right to comment on women’s appearance, and to consistently claim that women should take it as a “compliment,”when so many women’s organizations are now vocally expressing that it does just the opposite. The Hollaback Project, a US-based organization, started because women wanted to be able to do something to combat this feeling of humiliation by turning it back onto their harassers. Women take pictures of their harassers on their phones, and then send them in with a description of the incident and the location. This serves two purposes: to create space for empowerment and agency, and to create a supportive network of information to help women avoid spaces where they are more likely to encounter street harassment. It is also a space to share stories, information, and general experiences through the forms of comments and even youtube videos.

These organizations aren’t just popping up in the United States. They exist all over the world. In India, the Blank Noise project was developed to work against ‘eve teasing,’ the colloquial term for all kinds of street harassment, including physical contact. They want the public to know that “I Never Ask For It.” In Egypt, the HarassMap attempts to address the multiple facets of this problem by encouraging individuals to send in information about harassment, which is then put on a map. HarassMap then sends information to the individual to let them know about counseling and other services in their area, and also how to make a police report. The reports from women are compiled into statistics of street harassment, which are then given to police and local governmental officials to aid their combating this problem from a governmental standpoint. The areas with the most street harassment then are targeted by increased community organizing around the issue.

So, sir, now that you know what the fuck is up, I would hope that you would be wondering why so many women all over the world are responding in this way if what you’re doing is really to make us feel good. Then the next logical conclusion is that, good lord, who knew, but it doesn’t. It is harassment. And it needs to stop. You may call me dramatic for my next statement, but that’s OK, because I’ll call you an oppressor and part of the problem. Not only is street harassment a part of the reiteration of gendered inequality and hierarchies, it contributes to the constant reconstitution of our rape culture reality. If men are encouraged to see women’s bodies as there for their enjoyment, and then feel no chagrin in voicing their approval, how much of a leap is this to rape and sexual assault? Some people ask, “how can men feel it is OK to violate women in such a way?” when talking about sexual assault and rape, but those same people will tell you that you should just take street harassment in the form of inappropriately sexual language, catcalls, honks, and other comments as “compliments.” It isn’t complimentary for someone to force their sexual desire of your body onto you, in any way, shape or form.

So, in conclusion, you rude ass motherfucker, not only are you lewd and ignorant of the impact of your actions, but you are also contributing to the constant approval of gender inequality and violence by continuing to make comments like the one you made today. And that’s what’s up.

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